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The Open Heart Sees Beauty Where the Closed Heart Cannot

When Dave died, one of the most beautiful parts of my life and a huge part of my future died with him. We had plans that we will never be able to fulfill and this changed my life forever. I will be talking about some of our plans on the Mindful Money Podcast in the next few weeks.

One year later, I am still unpacking all the effects the loss of my best friend and only sibling has had on my life. I take no shame from it, but the initial data for the first year is in and it has not been a good year for me.

Falling Apart 

I used to get up at 4:30 every morning, meditate for 30 minutes, exercise for an hour, stretch for 15 minutes, use the following one to one-and-a-half hours to cool off, read, and write, before showering at 8, and beginning work at 9. This was my practice for more than 2 decades.

After Dave died, one drink at night became two drinks. Two drinks were sometimes three. Netflix was on way too late, the house was dark and everyone was asleep before I would lie down.

My mornings pushed later and later. Whenever I did wake up I sat in bed, skipping my meditation and workout, and just read and watched videos on YouTube and Facebook. I felt awful about it, but I couldn’t motivate. I couldn’t move.

Weeks of this became months and months became a year. In the first 3-4 months after he died, friends reached out and got me out for a walk. By October ‘21, it was getting dark earlier and when the time change came in November, it was impossible to get the walk in before folks had to be at work.

I occasionally got up and walked in Tilden in the dark on my own, but it didn’t stick. I bought a rowing machine to get some exercise… but that didn’t stick either.

It was a year of anger and depression with the rare glimpse of acceptance that quickly dissolved (think of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross).

I’m told this is all perfectly normal. I am within the acceptable range of grieving behaviors. I miss my brother and I am stuck in a rut. It is all part of the process.

Last Thursday, June 17th, was the one year anniversary of Dave’s death.

Coming Back Together 

Knowing it was going to be a very hard week and recognizing my rut, I planned to attend a meditation retreat. The last one I attended over 20 years ago was with Dave.

So, on Sunday, June 19th, I drove to Pacific Grove to attend The Power of Awareness with Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Konda Mason, and Devin Berry. My goal for the retreat was to rejuvenate my meditation practice and use that as an anchor to re-instill some version of those old morning habits. I wanted to take my life back from sorrow.

There are more stories about the retreat to come. Tara is known for her work with recovery from Trauma. Her personal story is filled with both challenge and re-birth after challenge. All 4 teachers were wonderful. The teachings were nourishing. And the community was supportive and loving.

The greatest lesson, however, came from a mama deer and her fawn that trusted an approaching biped.

Every morning of the retreat, there was an optional stretch and yoga session at 6:45 am. The day generally ended a little after 9 pm which meant I had participated in 14 hours of meditation and meditation instruction on Monday and Tuesday. I attended every session not wanting to miss a thing (even though we would all have the videos after the event). This was against Jack’s advice to take it easy, take breaks, and go for a walk on the beach.

By Wednesday morning, I had received mediation instructions and I had meditated for probably 16 hours of the last 2 days. I was exhausted, but I was open in a way that I have never been open.

I was so tired, that I skipped the stretch and yoga session before breakfast. Leaving my room at 7:15, I stepped out the door and turned towards the meditation hall. In front of me on the path were a mother deer and her fawn. She was alert and she looked towards me with her ears twitching intently. I continued forward slowly and she stepped off the path in front of me. She stayed close and didn’t run.

Her fawn, maybe 10 feet behind her, had also perked up. She was both listening carefully and watching her mom.

I continued walking slowly forward. They continued munching on the shrubs and grasses near the path.

I walked within 6 feet of the mother and within 4 feet of the fawn. As I approached each of them I slowed to a stop and I turned to look at them. They quit eating, raised their heads and turned their ears towards me. I could almost touch them. After a few cautious seconds, with complete trust, they both bent down and continued foraging.

They were aware. They knew to look for danger. Yet, they were unafraid of me. They were totally trusting.

It. Was. Beautiful.

It was a kind of beauty that I had not sensed for a long time. It was the kind of beautiful that I didn’t remember. A smile spread across my face as I voiced a quiet thank you.

It was a beauty that I now know that my heart longs for.

The Lesson 

There is a difference between the existence of and the experience of beauty and joy.

Beauty is around us all the time. Sometimes we can’t see it. Sometimes we won’t let ourselves see it.

Beauty, like everything else, is impermanent. It arises, it abides awhile, and it goes. When it goes, it is replaced by a new experience – some will be painful, some will be wonderful. Reality is a river of these experiences, one after another.

Some of the most important things in our lives will be taken from us. Old age, sickness, and death are all part of the arrangement. When someone ages or sickens and dies, or dies tragically as Dave did, we can lose our bearings. For a time, our suffering can be overwhelming. We may not be able to see beauty or experience joy.

When we pay more attention to the pain (as happens after a major loss), we can get lost in the pain. When that happens, it can take an out-of-context experience to shock us out of the revolving pain and difficulty.

The opposite is also true. When we see the beauty, we can get lost in the experience of beauty. Though given our negativity bias, it is easier to lose the thread of beauty and joy.

There is always more beauty available when we are open to it. The work is settling the body, calming the mind, and softening the heart. It may take a week, it may take a year, it may take 5 years. But keep going.

As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

There is light on the other side of darkness.

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